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Local News

Local Communities Prepare for Children’s Summertime Food and Hunger Needs

Organizations are stepping up efforts to provide sustenance for children who can’t rely on normal school meals during their summer break

The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County runs 15 summer spots where kids and teens can receive a free, healthy lunch, including at the Central Library at 40 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara.
The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County runs 15 summer spots where kids and teens can receive a free, healthy lunch, including at the Central Library at 40 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

Summer is a time many children eagerly look forward to, but the end of school can also mark the end, if only for a few months, of a significant portion of many kids’ daily meals.

For many families in Santa Barbara and the county as a whole, summertime means a greater struggle to provide sufficient food.

“We have an incredibly high rate of children on the free and reduced-price lunch program in schools in our county,” Misha Garrison, the development manager of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, told Noozhawk. “When they are on summer break, they no longer have access to those free and reduced-priced school meals.”

The Foodbank has found that 84 percent of students are in the free and reduced-price program, which translates to over 34,000 children, Garrison said.

“As we see it, in terms of our year-round distribution, we see the largest amount of need in Santa Maria,” said Garrison. “Thirty-nine percent of our total food distributed is going to Santa Maria, and then the city of Santa Barbara is right behind that, with 34 percent.”

The Foodbank puts on a variety of programs with a special focus on children, such as the Healthy School Pantry, a monthly event at local schools that provides nutritious food, health screenings, and food preparation demonstrations.

But with school now out, the organization is stepping up its efforts, and is seeking to raise $100,000 to provide healthy food for kids this summer.

Picnic in the Park, which the Foodbank established in 2011, is offering food and activities for kids five days a week this summer in 15 locations around the county, several in partnership with the Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department’s Safe and Strong program.

Garrison told Noozhawk that 3,000 children participated in last year’s program. 

Collaborating with the Foodbank has been the Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County and several county school districts.

Garrison said that the school districts, the Foodbank, and the Community Action Commission coordinate their meal programs to ensure that as wide a net as possible is cast by “mapping out the county based on where the highest needs are.”

The mapping is based “on schools that have over 50 percent of their students qualifying for that free or reduced-price meal service during the school year,” she said.

The Community Action Commission’s summer food program serves about 55,000 meals over a 10-week period in nearly 20 locations, said CAC’s director of nutrition services, Chris Barrett.

“The reality is that no one single organization can tackle the problem by themselves,” he said, citing assistance from county school districts and the Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department.

The organization’s lunch spots tend to be “open sites” in North County, such as community centers where the public can freely wander over, and “closed sites” in South County, including the Boys & Girls Club, where a set number of children are already there.

“Open sites” hold the potential for many more meal giveaways, but are much harder to predict in terms of the number of children and families who show up, Barrett said.

The Santa Barbara Unified School District, the Lompoc Unified School District, and the Santa Maria–Bonita School District have their own summer food programs.

As part of its program, the SBUSD has five food trucks that are deployed to parks hosting the free lunches, said Nancy Weis, the SBUSD’s director of food services. In all, over 2,000 kids are fed each day by the program, she said.

“We’re establishing locations for the summer that kids understand, that families remember,” Weiss said. “So year-to-year now, we’re serving the community in these special locations and not just in school anymore.”

The open nature of these public places helps ease the stigma around having to sign up for free or reduced-priced meals, she said.

The continuation of the district’s food services into the summer, she added, also ensures often-vital summer employment for district food services workers.

On the government side, the county’s Public Health Department administers the Women, Infants, and Children program, which provides nutritious food for pregnant and breast-feeding mothers, infants, and children under five.

The county’s Department of Social Services administers CalFresh, the state’s implementation of food stamps.

“Food quality and food availability are paramount for our community,” Weiss said. “It’s amazing when you go to these locations, like the Boys & Girls Club, and you see people eating, and you see the face of hunger in our community.”

Click below for the children’s summer food programs’ locations and dates:

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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